I don’t have many New Year’s Resolutions, but one of them is not letting this blog slip. I have a huge backlog of posts from over the Christmas period (I got impatient and have already put up most of it up on Instagram). Rather than letting that happen again, I’ll be cheating ever so slightly and writing a quick and dirty post about my experience last night (nothing like that, you reprobates).
Firstly – my friend is moving to South Africa. Secondly, she only went and blagged herself her a huge promotion and is now Head of Sales at a new company (if you knew her, you’d know she was a wreckhead, and this makes it doubly impressive). I’m missing her leaving do so mini-celebrations were in order. She wanted red wine, I wanted pizza (after sacking off yoga). Central was the chosen location. There was only one thing for it – Homeslice in Covent Garden.
Homeslice has been one of my favourite pizza joints on and off for years, jostling for place with Yardsale and Franco Manca’s (FM, you my number one, boo). I LOVE the dough at Homeslice – it’s salty, with a squidgy crust and firm centre. I also love that they used to serve you a litre of wine (house only, no choice) and measure how much you’ve drunk with a yardstick. Which means you end up drinking a shit load and get horribly drunk, but hey. It’s FUN. Although that’s all changed – the waiter very mysteriously wouldn’t tell us why, but you can only buy by the litre or a carafe, now. Something about them ‘never really being allowed’ to do the whole yardstick approach. Shame.
The first time we went to the Marksman pub, we were shouted at. They were under different management then, and our hostess was ired because we had turned up at the end of Sunday dinner and asked for mussels. NOBODY who knows ANYTHING about food asked for mussels late on a Sunday, she told us. Sheepishly, we had them anyway, and they were very good. So good, I took my family back for my birthday lunch months later, which was also very good. But it’s always a mistake taking my family anywhere I’d like to go again – she berated them for different things on different dishes, and they gave as good as they got. Probably worse. After that, I didn’t go again, bar for a quiet drink, in the corner, out of sight.
Then, we moved away from Hackney Road (all the way to Dalston!) just as the pub changed management and got a brand spanking shiny new menu. Sigh! Then, it won the Michelin pub of the year. We decided it was worth the trek. We would go for a Sunday roast.
We booked a 12.15 slot – it was either that or 6pm onwards, so you know there were going to be busy. It also meant we were the first to arrive, and sat awkwardly in an empty room with more wait staff than customers, which always makes me PARTICULARLY squirmish. However, the room started to fill up within the first half hour, and by the time we left there was barely space to move.
I have a confession to make, dear reader. I went for a very expensive meal last week, with the good intentions of writing a review for it. It was Rök Smokehouse in Islington, and the bill came to around £100 for two people. *Just* about justifiable if it had produced a blog post. Only problem is, I drank far too much red wine prior, and maybe an espresso martini, and I actually can’t remember it all that well.
But, foodie foot soldier that I am – I’ve cobbled together some blurry photos, badgered my (equally tipsy, but less forgetful) friend S, and I will do my best. Just know – if I can’t remember it, or S can’t remember it, I haven’t written it. None of this is made up – merely, told through the hazy blur of alcohol – which makes everything better anyway, right?
We started with a scallop each. Repeat: SCALLOP. Singular. For £8. It came in the shell, dressed with ‘nduga and and seaweed. It was great. Slightly charred on the outside, snowflake soft on the inside (a bit like all of us, eh?). There was scallop roe too, which freaked me out. I haven’t had that before, although it was lovely. I’m used to roe bursting in your mouth – saucy – like those little plastic pearls they’re trying to ban in face wash (I don’t put those in my mouth. That’s what I imagine they’d taste like, though).
The Bonneville Tavern is not what it seems. Set behind a heavy black door and a thick dark curtain, it sits incongruously on the corner where Mare Street meets Lower Clapton Road, more thorough-fare than destination. Only the black chalkboard outside betrays the smoky interior (literally, there’s a smoke machine by the toilets). If there were ever a time to step into the unknown, this would be it.
Once inside, you’re hit with the unmistakable smell of must, of old spaces crammed with new people. It’s not unpleasant – it just sets the scene. Walls are flayed plaster (aforementioned must culprit) and adorned with dead animal heads. The floors are dark wood, and so is the bar, with back-lit glass bottles lining the shelves. Seating is wood and leather, with a stained-glass skylight barely punctured by sunlight (I’ve been here during the day, in the height of summer).
Because it’s not just the Ripper-esque atmosphere that brings you back here, it’s the food. This Sunday visit was my third, and not to be my last. Disappointed by a missed opportunity for a roast earlier that day, the boy and I set out in search of some savoury European fare to fill that Yorkshire-pudding-shaped hole. Off to the Bonneville we set. Another brilliant bonus – this place is never packed. I’ve been here twice on a Sunday and once on a Thursday night – no need for booking, no need for queuing. There is always a buzz – a gentle, sonorous hum that fills the room but not the space between you and your dinner mate. Low lighting and candles encourage proximity – the perfect date spot.
Whenever I turn down Gerrard Place, left after the fire station on Shaftsbury Avenue, I brace myself. The smells of Chinatown hit you in a sickly, sweet wave – it is the aroma of sticky ribs, crispy-skinned duck and plum sauce. It is all at once too much and not enough, often overwhelming, especially on the tender stomach of a hangover which hasn’t yet been fed. The boy and I have two favourite places in Chinatown – Lido (one of my very first reviews) and Golden Dragon.
Lido evokes childhood memories for the boy, long distant weekend lunches with his father, but Golden Dragon is all our own. It’s huge, and all the waiters are in formal attire. The man at the front wears a hands free kit and conducts himself as if this were a couture fashion show – military precision and little mirth. We are seated without a smile and delivered our plates, saucers and green tea. Something about this kind of service makes me profusely polite and thankful for every little bit thrown my way – which eventually seems to rub off on the waiters, who thank you back as they clean plate after plate from our burgeoning table.
Usually, because good Dim Sum is a treat deigned only for those who get off their arses early afternoon and make the trip to Chinatown, we order about ten dishes (too many) and induce a Dim Sum coma that can only be relieved by sitting down with the top button of your jeans undone, and a promise not to overdo it so much next time – which we never keep.
The thing that nobody tells you about Duck & Waffle – well, nobody told me at least – is that the lift is made of glass. Completely see-through, 100% transparent, crystal-clear glass. Which means having to travel some forty floors, stomach-lurchingly fast, in a diaphanous death box.
I wasn’t prepared for this fact and only discovered it as I was roughly shoved into the damn thing by six squealing women (my friends), whizzing upwards in a terrifying trajectory of doom – and by then it was all too late. I stood with my face pressed up against the doors and my eyes squeezed shut until the horrific ordeal was over, ignoring the shoulder pulls and taunts of “look, Izzy, look, it’s beautiful!” while silently screaming GET YOUR GODDAMN HANDS OFF ME AND DO NOT SPEAK ONE MORE WORD UNTIL WE’RE ON SOLID GROUND.
So this was how I made my entrance to Duck & Waffle, shaking and limping thanks to jelly legs and an unrelated incident from earlier that day – something to do with a fitness DVD and overzealous burpees (damn you, Jillian Michaels).
So a few weeks ago I was randomly invited to a healthy cooking master class on Twitter by Simplyhealth, an insurance company looking to promote – you guessed it – a long life through diet and healthy living. Despite not blogging about either I thought – fuck it, I’ll go. This is the closest I’ve ever got to my food blogging dream – getting shit for free in return for writing about it. Even if I was selling myself out to the man, man. I like free shit.
I turned up on the day late, apprehensive and disheveled after sleeping in (an 11am start on a Sunday, I mean really). The class was being held at The Underground Cookery School near Old Street – no I’ve never heard of it either but it’s awfully nice. Stairs take you down to a long room, book ended by two kitchens and divided by sliding doors. Plus there was a ladies loo – which I ducked into to fill in my eyebrows because I hadn’t had time to put ANY face on. I simply MUST have eyebrows when meeting strangers I might have to impress.
I have so many reviews backed up that I’ve started to feel a little panicky. It was the boy’s birthday last month, which naturally meant at least two expensive meals out – the first of these being Flesh & Buns on Earlham Street, Covent Garden. I agonised over whether to take him here or Clove Club for weeks – but in the end the F&B menu just looked more exciting. And a little bit faddy. I’m a sucker for a fad, me. And we’re going to Clove Club for our Christmas presents to one another (aren’t we sweet) so stay posted on that front, foodies.
Firstly, Flesh & Buns is a massive big basement in Covent Garden occupying an old bar I remember drinking aged sixteen. Weird. We were seated on a long communal table in the middle of the room, on stools – which made me quite anxious. Especially considering how much food we were about to order. Gurl needs to spread out, know what I’m saying.
Right, so I’m totally drunk, sitting on the train from the arse end of nowhere home after work drinks so NATURALLY this is the best time to write a review. Tonight it’s the turn of Bouchon Fourchette on Mare Street.
I have eaten at Bouchon Fourchette twice now. Once with the boy, natch, and it was great. We had three courses, four glasses of wine and two coffees all for a very reasonable £80. It was awesome. Then I said I am totally taking my pain in the arse fucking family here for my Dad’s birthday, all five of us Gill twats who complain about everything and point our fingers at waiters and probably get all our food spat in (not me. I’ve worked in the service industry and I don’t point my finger at anyone with access to my food).
Seven of us braved the Stoke Newington side of Kingsland Road last night. I say braved, but a gaggle of seven screeching women was probably a far more terrifying prospect than anything else down the high street. Kingsland Road always scares me a little bit, despite growing up around the corner, and nearly moving off Ridley Road Market a couple of years ago (rat burger reviews ahoy!).
But every time I go back – when I’m sober enough to notice at least – it seems to have got more and more gentrified. I don’t know if this is a good thing for everyone – I’ve watched Top Boy, ‘kay. But what I do know is that there has been a damn fine spate of restaurants and bars cropping up, especially towards Stoke Newington. And that’s a good thing for me, at least.